Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”
“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”
- 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
“There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met yet”
- William Butler Yeats, at least attributed to him
Notice the hyphen in the title. This is not a political post, but possibly a church politics post.
At our present church, more than one couple has pulled my wife and I aside to say, “We thought that this was a friendly church, because the first person we met was your wife. But now we realize, she’s the only one!” Okay, true story from three couples I think, two for sure, but one couple may have repeated saying it. But these people exaggerate slightly. The point being is that my wife has lived by the quote from Yeats, or the quote attributed to him, as some say as an Irish pub slogan. But the established members of each church have their cliques that they are very friendly within, and they hardly notice strangers unless they are on “that committee” and getting accosted by “that committee” in most churches feels more like you have been mugged rather than welcomed.
I have talked to many church leaders with varying results and one pastor told me that every church will be offended if you tell them that they are not friendly, but almost all churches are far from friendly when you are a visitor with no connections within the church. So, church, just like business, becomes a matter of networking?!?!
But it is the rare individual who lives as the Yeats “slogan” suggests.
But that isn’t the point, entirely. Nor am I talking about the Scripture above as so many think of it as an issue of marriage. Immediately after saying that we should not be “yoked” to unbelievers, it talks of “fellowship” with darkness. Could this Scripture be warning against going to a church that believes in false doctrine? You may go to a denomination that you like and agree with, but then the people in the church have developed a quirk, trait, or by-law of the individual church that is far from being biblical. By the time you discover the oddity, you have already established friends. If you are like me, you then feel dirty.
But when you go to a new church, you check out their friendliness as if there is a meter for that; you carefully examine their order of worship and style of worship; and you listen intently to the pastor’s sermon. It may take attending multiple times before you find out for sure on any of these points.
But my real goal in this post is to examine the “social” aspects of a church.
Back years ago, we attended a church that everything revolved around “fellowship.” Don’t get me wrong, fellowship is nice, but Christian fellowship is rarely practiced in Christian churches. Christian fellowship involves someone pouring out their heart, because they know what they say will not become gossip fodder. And then people place their hands on the person and pray for them or offer Bible verses to boost their strength throughout the week or call them during the week to check up on them. In most churches, “God” is never mentioned near the coffee pot until someone spills coffee on their clothing, and then said in a far from nice way. Yes, even in church.
No, this fellowship at this old church was mostly gossip, and more than half of that malicious gossip. The women had meetings periodically that were social in nature and most of the time, there was no prayer offered before the meal, absolutely no Bible study – ever. The men were loners and they never got together.
A long time ago, my wife was in a red hat society group sponsored by the church and she fought every meeting to start the fun event with prayer, before they went anywhere, and to say a blessing at the meals. Others in the group chided her and laughed about her idiosyncrasies. I often acted as a bus driver for them and experienced the verbal abuse that she received, and some of it from fellow church members. But my wife never gave up, because the church sponsored the group.
When you ignore God at church social gatherings, it clearly sends a message that you are not a “Christian” church. You are a social institution, believing in the religion of “Social-ism.”
Then, I heard of a recent church meeting where they lamented about not getting Sunday school teachers for the younger children. Usually those teachers emerge from the parents of children in the class, but when the church decided that everything had to be on-line with young children who might not keep their mask on, no one volunteered to be a teacher. The parents could not, because they had to be home with their children during that hour for the children to have the on-line lesson, which also meant that they missed going to church, which was impossible anyway due to the lack of babysitting.
It was like the old New Hampshire farmer who told the guy who simply wanted to go home, “You can’t get there from here!”
And that is what COVID has done to many churches. I sure hope that John MacArthur wins his legal battle and other churches follow his lead or the “Church” as we know it will cease to exist. And the lack of Sunday school was high on MacArthur’s arguments for congregations congregating.
But what does this have to do with fellowship? I am talking about “Sunday school,” right? Someone, at this remote church far way, suggested that they have an on-line Sunday “fellowship” instead of the children being taught anything.
Please, please, do not have anything if it comes to that. Once meaningful worship in a learning setting is replaced with social gathering, no one is going to hit a reset button and go backward when people can gather again. Who was it in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis who said that progress could not be made by taking a step back?” It will be social gatherings instead of Sunday school forever. Then it will become “Why bother?” Within a generation, the church will be a social club. As a church, it will be apostate. I had a private conversation with the pastor involved, and he assured me that the fellowship would be at a different time, designed to have the children interact with each other in addition to Sunday school, but the lure remains. As humans with a sin nature, we gravitate toward the easier path and the one that seems more enjoyable.
So, we should not yoke ourselves with people who may even say that they are Christians, yet do not believe. Because what light can non-Christian fellowship have with darkness?
So, when you visit a church, there are at least five ways to interpret the friendliness of the church, I am sure more: 1) genuine Christian love for all who enter. 2) some individual who thinks that a stranger is a friend that they have not met, but the rest of the church has not noticed the stranger – or huddled with their clique to avoid the stranger. 3) the greeters are volunteers and this is their Sunday and they would much rather be anywhere other than welcoming you. 4) You already know someone, and they introduce you to their clique. Or 5) they are a social club that gave up believing in God a long time ago.
Then again, a lack of friendliness can lead to the following church experience: you arrive, you worship, you leave, and no one ever said “Boo.”
You know the old proverb (not in Proverbs), “all that glitters is not gold.” Yes, Shakespeare may have said it, but it was already around by then. When it comes to Social-ism, all churches that beam with “friendliness” are not friendly.
Choose more than a “spouse” from 2 Corinthians 6:14, choose all who you associate, and let your light shine toward others, for there are those in the darkness who seek the light. And they might show up at your church as a stranger. Working toward having the seeker see the light is one of the purposes of Christian fellowship.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.